By Jimitota Onoyume
TENSION is probably the apt word to capture the mood in Rivers State at the end of proceedings at the National Industrial Court, Bayelsa State, last Monday.
Twenty-two council chairmen in the state had, among other things, secured a restraining order from the Industrial Court to stop the state government from sacking them. They got this order before they were dissolved by a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. So the matter came up again at the Industrial court on Monday.
Shortly after proceedings ended at the court in Bayelsa, a neighbouring state, stories went viral in Rivers State that the Industrial court had ordered immediate reinstatement of the 22 sacked council executives.
Rivers State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr Davies Ikanya, and several others went on air calling for the reinstatement of the sacked council bosses in line with the Industrial court judgement.
A lawyer in Port Harcourt, Ken Atsuwete, joined the fray, saying the Industrial Court did not vacate its earlier order restraining the government from dissolving the 22 chairmen so it meant that they were still in office.
There was confusion, panic and tension in the state particularly among residents. Some media houses also did not help issues as they saturated the polity with news of the purported order to reinstate the sacked council executives.
There were unconfirmed reports of party faithful planning to storm the various councils the following day.
Attorney General of the state and Commissioner for Justice, Barr Emma Aguma, who later briefed media men in Port Harcourt Monday night, pleaded with the state to ignore stories of order by the industrial court to reinstate the sacked chairmen as untrue.
He said he had calls from his children and friends wanting to confirm if it was true that he had been kidnapped or slumped at the Industrial court because of the purported judgement.
His words: “I had to wait in Bayelsa state to have this record of proceedings in court to brief the media this night. My family called me from England that I fainted in court today. Another member of my family called to say that I had been kidnapped. All these stories were what went out today after the activities at the Industrial Court in Bayelsa.
‘’There have been stories that the court set aside the High court judgement in Port Harcourt and also reinstated the dissolved council chairmen. I find this very strange because I was in court. The most important thing is that the court said that all parties should file the necessary processes. No court order was set aside. Nobody was reinstated.
‘’As a rule, I don’t like commenting on court proceedings.. The person maligned in the false stories is not me. It is the judge. The judge did not do anything about reinstating or setting aside.
The issue that the verdict of a federal high court had been set aside is a lie and it is a lie. The Federal High Court, Port Harcourt applied its punitive jurisdiction. The meaning is that the 22 local government chairmen were never elected. The industrial court is not an appellate court. I was in court, I did not faint.”
Aguma, who took a swipe at some of the media houses for running unverified stories said they should double check their facts to retain credibility.
The following day, Tuesday, Police men mounted minimal security at some of the council secretariats to ensure there was no breakdown of law and order. The 22 two caretaker committee chairmen, their members, staff and visitors to the various council secretariats were allowed unhindered access to the councils by the Policemen.
Later, the state Police Commissioner, Mr Chris Ezike, told newsmen that the Industrial court judgement before him did not in anyway order reinstatement of the sacked executives, adding that he had also not received any other contrary judgement. He warned those seeking to foment trouble in the state with lies to desist, stressing that the Police would not tolerate any act of lawlessness.
A photocopy of certified true copy of the judgement made available to newsmen showed that Justice James Agbadu-Fishim adjourned to October 6 after asking all parties to file the necessary processes and relevant exhibits.
“I have listened to the arguments of all the counsel for the parties in this matter. I am of the view that there is the need to allow all parties to file the necessary processes and put in all the relevant exhibits to support their applications as well as to react appropriately.
Therefore by the agreement of all counsel in this matter, this case is adjourned to 06/10/2015 for definite hearing of all pending applications accordingly,” the judge said.
It will be recalled that the out-gone state government conducted local council election into 22 of the 23 councils on May 23 amid protest from the then main opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP that the move violated regulatory laws for such exercise in the state.
The party also shunned the exercise on account of its argument that the process leading to the election was fraught with irregularities among other things.
Finally on May 26, the former governor swore in those elected in the controversial election and bowed out of office on May 29.
Justice Lambo Akanbi of Federal High court I in Port Harcourt on July 9 nullified the election of the council executives, saying that the former government went ahead with the election in spite of a pending court order asking all parties in a suit filed by the PDP in the state challenging moves to conduct the election.
Justice Akanbi said the wind of change was all over so there was no room for acts of impunity and rascality, adding that the court had to apply its disciplinary jurisdiction to retain its place as an institution that should be respected and regarded by all.
“Parties should not resort to self help when a matter is before the court. Once the parties are aware of the court process parties are bound to respect the court process. They should on no account resort to self help. Whenever there is such the court must invoke its disciplinary jurisdiction. Unless the court exercise its disciplinary jurisdiction in appropriate cases it may lose its respect. It may be reduced to a toothless dog which barks but can’t bite.
“Consequently, the application of the applicants is sustained, setting aside the purported local government election conducted during the pendency of the suit,” he ruled.
The PDP in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/84/2015, had sought the court to declare the conduct of the local government election of May 23, ultra licit um and of no effect. The respondents in the Suit were: Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC), former governor Rotimi Amaechi and four others.
Chairman of the APC, in the state, Mr Ikanya who expressed displeasure with the verdict said his party will challenge it.